Our leadoff statistic is 1.2 goals per game, which is what the Fire are averaging this season, and it's the lowest offensive output of any Fire team since the organization's inception if I did my calculations correctly. If there was any one play that summed up the team's fortunes - or lack thereof - this season in finding the back of the net, it came from Ante Razov late in a recent home match with San Jose. The Fire's all-time leading scorer worked his tail off to draw a penalty kick, but Earthquakes 'keeper Pat Onstad came up with a save that sent the Soldier Field crowd home thinking bitterly about the big Canadian's similar stonewall last November in Los Angeles (at MLS Cup). It was a microcosm of a season where the team has done everything in its power to create scoring opportunities, but has fallen just short of putting the ball in the back of the net.
Herein lies the striker's paradox: Every shot can't go in. It's just that simple. To expect that every shot is even on frame may be expecting too much. With the Fire's firing squad struggling, the question is how many might not go in before one does? It's a struggle between the law of averages and the law of diminishing returns. And is it better to have shot and missed than to never have shot at all?
With Razov, the answer is to the latter question is clearly yes. Ante leads the team - and MLS - in shots and in shots on goal, and over half of his efforts are on target, an average that is tops on the current team among players who have taken at least five shots. While his goal-scoring rate is off it's annual breakneck pace, Ante still manages to get a shot off every 19 minutes on average, and a shot on goal every 37, with both of these numbers falling right in the middle of his range for the last five years. Subjectively, this plays out with Razov working hard to get the ball anywhere near the frame, any way he can, in the hopes that good things will happen. So far, the good things have been few and far between.
A striker's job is more than just scoring goals. In a more abstract way, it's nearly as important to create scoring chances on the premise that, eventually, some of them will go in. On that side of the equation, Ante is having as good a season as he's ever had. It's a bit of a coaching cliche, but you have to figure the goals will come.
It's hard to find fault with the rest of the forwards either, statistically. Damani Ralph is ahead of his Rookie of the Year-winning pace. Nate Jaqua and Dipsy Selolwane are both shooting and scoring at a faster clip than last year. Taken in total, the four strikers are collectively doing better than they did last year, across the board.
Once you get past those four guys, though, you see very quickly where the problem lies. Only one other player has scored for the Men in Red this season, and that's Justin Mapp with his lone goal. The forward contingent accounts for 93% of the team's goals, 62% of shots and 72% of shots on goal, compared to 53%, 51% and 56% for last season, respectively. Notably missing from the scoring ledger are midfielders Andy Williams and DaMarcus Beasley, who combined for nine goals, or 17% of the team's total, last season.
Also missing from the ledger - and the field so far this year - is Jesse Marsch, and his absence brings with it two critical consequences. First, the veteran midfielder takes care of business defensively in the midfield, which frees up the likes of Beasley and Williams to move into the attack more quickly and more confidently. Second, he contributed five goals to the cause last year, ranking him fourth on the team's goals chart.
Last season, there were a half-dozen guys who pitched in with a goal every dozen games or so. This year, that's clearly the missing link. We're already 13 games into the season, so if we're actually on that pace again but just the victims of bad timing, the team should beat Columbus this weekend by a score of about 7-0, which wouldn't be unprecedented for a Fourth of July weekend.